Every year, a slew of dictionaries crown their chose ‘Word of the Year’. Some of these—like ‘selfie’, or ‘climate emergency’—are surface picks that vocalise viral popularity or growing worries. Others, like ‘locavore’, ‘post-truth’ and ‘existential’, push you to examine the human condition a bit more deeply. But we’re not sure which way 2020’s winner right go.
We all hate unsolicited advice, but we particularly despise unsolicited change. The novel coronavirus is swiftly levelling the global economy and social networks, simultaneously exposing how ill-equipped humanity—in all its shiny, tech-driven pride—can be, in dealing with crises. Yes, there are stirring success stories, but there’s also enough misinformation, suppression and death going around for tragedy to be reduced to statistics. As patients recover, doctors die. As politicians drive welfare, they siphon away attention from their shadows. Travel, of course, has been flattened to virtual tours and flipping through sunny albums.
But don’t think of COVID-19 as a reckoning. Instead, it’s the barometer for our capacity to change. To, for once, put aside bruised egos and self-importance, and work as a community for the greater good. And that means, no matter how hard the travel bug may have bitten you, to stay at home, follow social distancing, and contact a healthcare provider if you show symptoms.
The world’s come to a screeching halt, and it’ll take some time to iron out the pile-up. Whether the stop sign stays red, or slides into yellow, will entirely depend on how we govern ourselves. It’s sure to show up in 2020’s Word of the Year—but will that be ‘outbreak’, ‘hope’, or ‘survival’?